Initial planning for the Sebago-Long Lake Music Festival began in 1969 when a group of enterprising young musicians from Indiana purchased property for a summer residence in Harrison, Maine. Homer Pence, bassoon, Judith Pence, oboe, Morris Knight, composer, Kay Knight, singer and dancer and Paul Boyer, flute, dreamed of developing a series of summer chamber music concerts.
On Tuesday evening, July 24 1973, enthusiastic music lovers from the Lakes Region of Western Maine gathered at the beautiful old chapel of Bridgton Academy for the first concert of the inaugural season. Every summer since then, the Tuesday night series of concerts in July and August have been high points for local residents and visitors to the area.
After an enthusiastic response to the initial season, the SLLMF became a non-profit corporation with the stated purpose of presenting high quality chamber music to the people of Western Maine through concerts, outreach and educational programming. A volunteer board of trustees was elected as the corporation’s governing body. This board was and continues to be a truly volunteer, working group. Early financing was through ticket sales and contributions from individual supporters and foundations. Later on, advertising in the program booklet and a concert sponsorship program were added to the fundraising effort. Benefit parties given at the homes of Festival supporters have been enthusiastically attended.
As Music Director for the first 10 years, Homer Pence invited distinguished musicians from around the country to perform a wide variety of exciting, adventurous music, establishing the dynamic tone of the Festival for future Directors. In 1983 pianists Frieda and Stephen Manes became Co- Music Directors, followed by violist and cellist, Laurie and James Kennedy in 1986. Laurie Kennedy has been Music Director from 2000 to the present.
In 1988 the Chapel at Bridgton Academy was closed for major renovations. For two years concerts were held at the auditorium of Lake Region High School in Naples. After returning to the Chapel for 3 more summers, the Festival found that it had outgrown the space. Meanwhile a group of citizen volunteers was trying to save Deertrees Theatre in Harrison, a rustic structure in the woods with outstanding acoustics. The trustees decided to move the SLLMF to Deertrees for the 1993 season. This beautiful venue has been the home of the chamber series ever since.
The Tuesday night series has always been the SLLMF cornerstone, but outreach to surrounding towns has played a vital role in growth and community involvement. For many years, musicians performed for residents of area nursing homes. Youth concerts were added very early on, and since 1987, 2 or 3 per season have been presented in surrounding communities. More recently, “Discovery” concerts for listeners of all ages have been added to the offerings. Repeat performances of Tuesday night concerts are frequently presented in towns around the state. The Deertrees concerts are all recorded, and the listening area further expanded by broadcasts on Maine Public Radio and the sale of SLLMF live performance CDs.
Over forty years, many things have changed, but not the Festival’s commitment to bringing live, high quality chamber music to Maine’s residents and summer visitors.